“Maybe at the present the authorities smile on the church of God; but within a while it may frown, and the storm of persecution arise. There was a time when the churches had ‘rest throughout all Judea’ (Acts 9:31). It was a blessed time. But how long did it last? Alas! not long.”
William Gurnall (1617 – 79)
When I was growing up and still living with my parents, my family supported ministries based in the USSR, and on our fridge we had a big poster covered in photographs of Russian pastors who were imprisoned or endangered because of their faith. Every night in our devotions we would pray for one of them, that God would bless and protect him. Meanwhile we lived in middle-class suburbia in Toronto. We freely told our neighbors about Jesus, we went to church twice each Sunday, we read the Bible openly, and even went to Christian schools. It did not seem fair that we had it so easy.
And we still have it easy. It is still remarkably easy to be a Christian here in North America. We have never faced systemic persecution. We have laws that protect our freedom to worship and our freedom to believe what we believe.
That’s not to say, though, that we never suffer. We still do face scorn and mockery, and especially so as the culture around us proceeds farther and deeper into paganism. Though the burdens we bear are light compared to what some others have had to carry, they are burdens nonetheless. I was recently studying 1 Peter 4 and found 5 reasons that we can and should rejoice even now when we are persecuted, or even in that day when we face much greater persecution.
1. Rejoice Because God Is Testing You
In times of trial, you can rejoice because God is testing you. Peter says, “Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you” (verse 12). Even trials exist under the sovereignty of your all-powerful God, and they exist in order to test you. There are at least two ways that God tests you in times of persecution: He tests the genuineness of your faith, and he tests the maturity of your faith. When persecution comes, the false Christians are tested and inevitably run away. In the moment they are forced to suffer, they recant their faith and run away. Their faith is tested and proven fraudulent. The other kind of test is one that proves the depth or maturity of the believer’s faith. There is an important distinction between this test and the kind of test you are accustomed to. When you are in school and take a test, the purpose is for the teacher to know how well you’re doing. But when God tests you, the purpose is for you to know how well you’re doing. God wants you to be encouraged, and so he allows a trial to come, and that trial proves you who you are and how much you’ve grown. You don’t know what your faith is made of until it’s tested. So you truly can rejoice in trials knowing that God tests the ones he loves.
2. Rejoice Because You Share Christ’s Sufferings
The second reason you can rejoice in suffering is because you are sharing Christ’s sufferings. Peter says, “Rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” When you are persecuted, when you undergo those trials, you are participating in Christ’s sufferings. As you suffer you inevitably come to a greater understanding of what Christ endured on your behalf, and this draws you closer to him. After all, if someone persecutes you, it isn’t because they hate you; they persecute you because they hate Christ. In this way suffering is a kind of promise from God: A promise that you are united to his Son. Your suffering is proof of your salvation. You can praise God knowing that you are sharing Christ’s sufferings because you are united to him.
3. Rejoice Because God Is With You
Third, rejoice because God is with you. He is near to you in your persecution. Verse 14 says, “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” This is a promise that God does not abandon you in your persecution, but is right there with you in the middle of it. This is one very good reason to read church history. What you find as you read about people who are being persecuted is that they have a supernatural joy and that they so often speak about God’s nearness in their suffering. When it seems that everyone else has abandoned them, they have a much deeper awareness of the presence of the Holy Spirit living within them, blessing them, and comforting them. While they do not love being persecuted, they would not trade away their personal experience of God in that persecution. As C.S. Lewis so aptly said, God whispers to us in our pleasures but shouts to us in our pain. Rejoice, because God is with you.
4. Rejoice Because God Is Glorified
Fourth, rejoice because God is being glorified. Peter says, “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” When you suffer because you are a Christian, and when you suffer as a Christian, God is glorified. Why? We can get a hint from the book of Job. Job’s friends insisted that he was suffering because he had done evil, because he deserved it. But no, Job was suffering because God had determined it and because Satan was bent on it. As Job was shown to be blameless, and as Job refused to curse God, God was glorified. And we see that in times of persecution, Christians constantly glorify God. As they suffer they tell others about him. As they suffer they sing his praises. As they suffer they prove themselves blameless. God is glorified even in persecution, and God is glorified especially in persecution.
5. Rejoice Because Justice Is Near
Finally, Christians can rejoice in persecution because justice is near. Those who persecute Christians will not triumph in the end. Peter says, “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” Peter asks a rhetorical question: If God even allows his precious, chosen people to suffer in this world, how much greater will be the suffering of those who persecute them? God has determined that Christians will suffer. He has determined that Christians will prove their faith and strengthen their faith not apart from persecution, but through it. And yet persecution is not the end. Death is not the end. The worst thing unbelievers can do to the Christian is destroy his body through death, but the Christian knows that in Christ he has overcome death. Christian, you can rejoice in God’s justice, knowing that God has triumphed, is triumphing, and will triumph. Those who persecute you will receive justice; God will not be mocked.
In your suffering you really can rejoice.
As you are being persecuted, you can be glad.
- Because God is testing you to prove and strengthen your faith,
- because you share the sufferings of Christ,
- because God is near to you,
- because God is being glorified,
- and because justice is not far off.
* © www.challies.com, March 24,2015
See related articles:
- Part 1 of this series (here!)
- The normal Christian Persecution (English)
- Die normale Verfolgung treuer Christen (Deutsch)